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Ruling gives hope to employees with latent diseases

Plaintiff attorneys are praising a ruling from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on an employee's ability to sue an employer for latent diseases. In November, the court ruled that employees could sue their employers over latent diseases caused by unsafe work conditions even if the occupational disease was diagnosed more than 300 weeks after the employee's exposure to the unsafe conditions. Prior to the ruling, individuals could only seek compensation if the injuries or illnesses were diagnosed within a 300-week period.

The ruling was in response to two combined cases of employees who had been diagnosed with mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. In both cases, the diagnosis came decades after the employee had left the workplace where the exposure took place. Both men and their spouses filed suits against their respective employers and the cases had been ruled on and reversed several times before making their way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Defense attorneys argued that the suits shouldn't be allowed because they were precluded by the Workers' Compensation Act's 300-week limitation period for filing a claim. However, the court noted that diseases like mesothelioma may not reveal themselves for 30 to 50 years after asbestos exposure. The court said the 300-week limitation unfairly restricted ill employees from seeking compensation.

Plaintiff attorneys widely praised the decision. One attorney said he hoped more states would follow suit as many states currently adhere to the 300-week limitation. This decision allows employees in Pennsylvania who have long left workplaces to pursue compensation for diseases that may have been contracted during their time at that workplace. An employment attorney could advise an individual on whether a suit is appropriate and could then advocate on their behalf in any litigation.

Source: The Pennsylvania Record, "Pa. Supreme Court: workers can sue employers over latent occupational diseases", Jon Campisi, December 13, 2013

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